Monday, 9 June 2008

snark revisited

After I wrote about snark, I was informed that Fernando Soto had already covered the same ground in The Consumption of the Snark and the Decline of Nonsense: A Medico-Linguistic Reading of Carroll’s ‘Fitful Agony’ in The Carrollian 8.

In that paper, Soto mentions that The Dictionary of Early English traces snark to snirt. snirt means

To laugh in a suppressed manner, to snicker. 18th and 19th centuries. In the same period, snirtle, to laugh even more quietly (but mockingly), to snigger. All these words are echoic; also sniff; snark; snork; snort; snur, to snort; snurt, to snore, to sneer, to snore. Snurt was first written in the 15th century; a snurter was a snorer...Also snite, to wipe the nose; snot, to blow the nose. Snot, also snat, nasal mucus was common (but not vulgar) from the 15th through the 17th century; earlier it meant the snuff of a candle, the burnt part of a candle wick.

Curious about The Dictionary of Early English, I had a look - it's freely available here. It was written by Joseph Twadell Shipley and published in 1955. It covers terms from the 8th to the 18th centuries that have fallen out of use. Check out the entry for snark!

snark. See snirt. But also, to find fault - a 19th century use. Beware of the Boojum!

Indeed. Anyway, we're dealing with two snarks here. The OED says:

snark v. dial. [Corresponds to MLG. and LG. snarken (NFris. snarke, Sw. and Norw. snarka), MHG. snarchen (G. scharchenschnarken), of imitative origin: cf. SNORK v.]
1. intr. To snore; to snort
1866 N. & Q. 3rd Ser. X, 248/1 I will not quite compare it [a sound] to a certain kind of snarking or gnashing. 1907 Westm. Gaz. 9 Nov. 4/1 All of a sudden she (the mare, I suppose he meant) snarked an' begun to turn round.
2. intr. and trans. To find fault (with), to nag.
1882 Jamieson's Sc. Dict. IV. 314/2 To Snark, fret, grumble, or find fault with one. 1904 E. NESBIT Phœnix & Carpet x. 185 He remembered how Anthea had refrained from snarking him about tearing the carpet.

Altho both snarks might be "of imitative origin", another possible etymology of snark2 is from an alternation of nark "to annoy; to complain".

So we have two snarks: one older and perhaps dialectal, and one newer and in common use (it was used by Nesbit). I tend to think that snark2 formed the phonological inspiration for Carroll's Snark.


mahendra singh said...

Excellent stuff, the snark hunt continues and may it never end!

The eminent Snarkologist Doug Howick recently dug this up, it will interest you:

It's intriguing that the author of this caption saw fit to elide the word "snark"

I have another hypothesis: snark means everything! It is a flypaper word and perfectly illustrates the rather slatternly (but fun at parties) nature of the language.

Onward, forks, hope, all that stuff!

Doug H said...

It's very kind of Mahendra to describe me as he has (above). I'll admit to being a Snarkologist but I'm none too sure about the "eminence".
Following the New Zealand link, I recently found this on the www:
"SNARK CAPTURED ON SMALL ISLAND OFF OF NEW ZEALAND! - Skeptics will now have to eat crow after a report in Pravda RU of the capture of a live snark on a small island off the eastern coast of New Zealand. The legendary creature was snared with the help of thimbles, railway shares, and soap by Capt. Bellman and his crew. Regretfully, one member of the crew, a baker by trade, was lost in the struggle. So, to all you closed-minded, concrete-for-brains skeptics who have mocked me -- Ha! I told you so. -- Victor"
The full link is at:
Kind regards, Doug H

Matt said...

In Minnesota, 'snirt' describes an unpleasant kind of weather-- 'snow mixed with dirt' and is generally assumed to come over the border from North Dakota.

goofy said...

snark'd, according to their Manner.

Maybe "snark" is a Maori word meaning "tattoo". Or maybe the writer made it up to sound technical. Mahendra might be on to something: use "snark" when you don't have another word.

Goetz said...
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Goetz said...
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Goetz said...

News from the Snark hunt: Flip the Banker's Nose.

Götz said...

After five years of Snark hunting: is about Henry Holiday's pictorial allusions and references in his illustrations to Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark.

By the way: Among all Snark illustrators known to me, Henry Holiday and Mahendra Singh are the best constructors of pictorial conundrums.